What We’ve Learned From Sending 306,660 Cold Emails For 108 Startups

The time has finally come to launch your new cold email campaign. You don’t know what kind of response you’ll get but you’re excited to put your messaging to the test. Dollars, fame and best-case-scenario optimism play on your mind as your mouse hovers over the SEND button.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from sending hundreds of cold emails every day for the past few years, it’s this:

Cold email campaigns can be wildly successful when done right. And they can be miserably unsuccessful when done wrong.

Of the 306,660 emails we’ve sent on behalf of our 108 startup clients, we’ve received 33,732 responses (11%).

And of those responses, 8,031 were interested in the product or service our clients were offering (2.6%).

This average of 2-3 interested leads from every 100 cold emails is nothing to sneeze at. A campaign that performs at this level can easily sustain a successful business, potentially bringing in 100+ hot leads per month. And just to clarify, we’re not talking about the response rate here, because the response rate isn’t a very useful measure of success. We’re talking about 2.6% of the people we contact being genuinely interested in buying your product.

The 3 Critical Factors Of A Cold Email Campaign

The performance of your cold email campaign depends on these 3 things:

  1. Whether you correctly identify the person who has the pain, and
  2. Whether you clearly communicate that you understand their pain and can likely solve it.
  3. When you absolutely nail these three points there’s no reason you can’t match the interested rates of our highest performing campaigns: a whopping 17-20%.

If we assume that your product solves a real pain, and that you’re contacting the right person, then the only question left is what to write in the email. Let me run you through the strategies that we’ve had the best results with.

Cold Email Copy Strategies That Convert

The Subject Line: General Usually Beats Specific

Vague subject lines tend to get higher open rates, which means more eyes on your message.

The base reason is simple. If a prospect’s inbox is overloaded they’ll skip the emails that aren’t urgent. The more information you give them in the subject line, the more comfortable they’ll be in deciding that they don’t need to read your email right now.

If you keep the subject line vague, yet relevant, they’re more likely to open your email to check if it’s urgent.

Less specific subject lines like “[company name] customers” perform better than more specific subject lines like “Improve [company name] customer satisfaction”. And subject lines like “Network problem” consistently outperform more elaborate ones like “Automated network monitoring”.

The Hook: What’s In It For Them

Don’t introduce yourself in your email, they don’t care who you are. Start with why you’re emailing them, what’s in it for them, and why they should care. The goal of each sentence should be to keep them wanting to read the next sentence.

If any single sentence doesn’t achieve that goal… scrap it.

Here’s an example hook that returned a 5.04% interested rate from CEOs, founders and directors of tech companies:

Hi (name) - hoping to reach the person who looks after product marketing at (company)? Because I want to personalize your customers’ user journeys. We get them to take the actions you want them to take after they sign up.

The Pitch: Keep It Simple, Stupid (K.I.S.S)

Make it short, and don’t bog them down with details. Our best emails are between 50-100 words total. The goal of the email is just to spark enough initial interest to get them to respond. Don’t try to close the deal over email.

Focus on just one clear pain point that your product solves per email. If you want to test multiple pain points, A/B split test different versions of the email to see which ones resonate the most. It’s confusing if your product does too many things.

Here’s an example pitch that returned a 4.79% interested rate from senior level marketing folk at companies with 100+ employees.

I'd like to show you exactly where your customers get stuck on your website, why they leave and how to fix it. You'll probably discover a problem you've never even thought about that's costing you money.

The Validation: Earn Their Trust

This is where you back up your pitch with proof in the form of well-known existing clients, measureable results or awards you’ve received.

This is especially important when your pitch makes a big claim, or when your product is in a crowded space.

If you don’t have proof yet, you can achieve a similar result by making a surprising or unexpected statement, or by pre-empting an objection they might have and addressing it.

Here are a couple of examples of validation statements that received interested rates of 3.77% (from customer support managers) and 4.01% (from sales managers) respectively.

Example 1: You won’t need any new hardware, downloads, coding or training, and you’ll get a call center with all of the data and reporting you could want.

Example 2: We're the only company that brings research data and science to the top of the sales funnel, and the vast majority of our clients report positive ROI within 90 days.

The Ask: What Do You Want Them To Do?

Be very specific about what you’re asking for. Do you want to send them more information, get them on a call or get them to simply answer a question?

Make it easy for them to write back. If they have to think about their response for more than a few seconds, they probably won’t respond.

It’s also a good idea to ask them to connect you with the right person, in case it’s not them.

Here’s a typical call-to-action that we use.

Do you have 10 minutes for a chat on Wednesday?

If not, who do you recommend I speak with? Thanks for your time.

The Follow Ups: Be Politely Persistent

Always send at least one follow up. Don’t be afraid to send up to five. Over 58% of our interested responses come from follow up emails.

Think of a series of follow up emails as an ongoing conversation between you and your potential customer. Each email should build on the previous email or respond to any objections the person may have thought of after reading the previous email.

Keep them short (

Here’s an example of a follow up email that returned a 3.44% interested rate from product managers at fashion companies.

Our sales and operations offices are based here in the States, so you always have somebody to jump on the phone with if you need your questions answered instantly, in English.

Do you have a few minutes for a chat in the next few days?

Look out for a future article that will cover the art of the follow up in more depth.

If All Else Fails

Sometimes your emails will still get a poor response. This usually indicates that the pain point your product solves isn’t significant enough, or that you’re contacting the wrong people.

If this happens, abandon the pitch style above and ask your leads a question that’s designed to start a conversation instead. Get more information about their needs/pains to learn why your initial product pitch wasn’t resonating.

Here’s an example of a conversational email.

Just wanted to ask which EHR you’re using at {}?

Because we’re trying to understand how different EHRs fit the needs of different medical specialities.

If you’re contacting the right people, solving a real pain point and clearly communicating that you understand their pain and have a solution for it, you will have a successful cold email campaign.

I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about the startup sales process based on our experience. Give me a call on 415-669-4819 or send me an email at info@hiplead.com. We’re located in San Francisco.

- Conor Lee, Founder & CEO, HipLead.com

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